9.16.2005

Boxing Ethnics

A couple days ago I was part of a discussion with some friends over what constitutes "ethnicity". I was surprised to hear that some people define it purely from a genetic standpoint. Two Japanese people have a child in Korea, raise him there as a Korean. I asked, "Is this child ethnically Japanese?" The answer was a definite yes. That ethnicity is simply a sub-class of race. Caucasian is a race and Swedish is an ethnicity. "So culture plays no role in ethnicity?" A "No" came flying back at me, hit me in the nose and took a twenty from my wallet on the way out.

I don't think I can bring myself to define ethnicity in the same way. Certainly, I wasn't the only one who felt that way but I was definitely the one who felt it strongest (or at least was willing to articulate it the strongest language). Part of the discussion revolved around whether there exists a Canadian ethnicity. I don't think there exists a Canadian ethnicity (and, frankly, I find ethnicity and race highly overrated concepts; to me, it's like saying that tabby cats and black cats have different and defining characteristics beyond their superficial physical ones) but certainly people can identify themselves as Canadian. That, however, is so subjective that it's impossible to classify as definitvely as people seem able to do for ethnicity.

I definitely feel culture must play some role in a person's ethnicity or else, to my sensbilities, it simply feels like a eugenics exercise. In writing this post, I've gained a dislike for the term. I really don't see any purpose to the concept other than to divide people along some fairly silly lines. But people like boxes and placing themselves and others in boxes so, admittedly speaking as someone who's grown up without a very clear box to draw around himself (and glad for it), ethnicity seems like a dopey idea.